If Everybody Claims Victory, Does Everybody Win? (Israel and Hezbollah)

Maybe the song is too simplistic, and visualizing one of the world’s long-standing conflicts as nothing more than a “sibling rivalry” is naive. But the metaphor seems to fit, to my mind.

Most sibling rivalries go on for so long that nobody even remembers quite what started them. This story starts with two “half brothers” whose metaphorical descendants become the tribes of Israel and the tribes of Arabia. Two of the world’s great religions come from these two small boys.

There is a verse in Genesis where it says that they are simply, innocently, playing in the sand. It’s an image I like to keep in my mind. I like to imagine: what if we could strip back the layers of emnity, and just get back to that moment? What if we could bottle that moment, and bring it forward into our all-too-adult world?

The moment doesn’t last. Their father and mothers get involved in the situation, and pretty soon it’s clear that the valley isn’t big enough for the both of them. (Even though they are probably the smallest humans there!!) And so, these two boys are put at odds with one another, through the jealousies and bitterness of their parents.

How often are the failings of adult children traceable to the things their parent’s taught them to hate?

Of course, Christianity comes out of this same soil too. Three of the world’s great religions all tie back to this same father, these same two mothers, and that tiny sliver of real estate.

Isn’t there something to be said for seeing someone as family? Or, has this sibling rivalry gone so long that nobody can the “others” as related to them at all.

I cannot condone what Hezbollah has been doing in southern Lebanon. Israel is absolutely correct to point out that they have violated the terms of a previous peace agreement by arming a buffer zone that was supposed to provide everyone with a little space. And Israel is right to ask questions about how we would act if another government or group had all that kind of armament pointed our way, just across our border. I mean, think back to the Cuban Missile Crisis. We almost saw World War III when some missiles were 90 miles away from us. How would be react if, as is the case now, we were facing down missiles a mile across the Canadian border? (Work with me here, it’s a hypothetical…)

On the other hand, I cannot condone Israel’s major offensive based on the kidnapping of two soldiers. It appears for all the world that they have wanted to go into southern Lebanon for years, but simply have not had the “pretext” to be able to make the move. By all accounts, these war plans have been drawn up for a long time, and they were waiting…just waiting…for some shoe to drop. The kidnapping of two of their soldiers was that shoe, and the assault began.

It would be nice to have an….oh, I don’t know…Superpower that might step in at such a time and force both sides back to the table. Tony Blair tried to sell that idea to President Bush at a world summit recently. But apparently Bush was already too busy at his own table, eating a dinner roll, to be bothered with it.

But, let’s say we HAD gotten involved and gotten involved early. What would say to Israel? In a world where “pre-emptive war” is now seen as an appropriate policy strategy, who are we to argue with them? By which I mean: given our own pre-emptive war –fought on trumped up moral grounds that have since crumbled like desert sand– who are we to judge what they do?

Perhaps this is why the Administration seemed to act so slowly in this case. Not only because, politically, some in the Administration wanted Israel to have the time to fight this war; but also because, morally, what could we really say to them:

Please stop….we don’t think this is right?
Please stop…we’d certainly never do anything like this?
Please stop…you don’t see how this will just make things worse in the region?

I mean, which of these could we actually say, in good conscience?

So, we said nothing. We stood by, mutely, eating our dinner rolls. Abandoning what shreds of moral authority we had left.

So, what happens now?

Israel’s in a heck of a pickle, because Hezbollah now seems much stronger (militarily) than they counted on. Therefore, doesn’t Israel look “weak” and vulnerable if they don’t continue fighting? But what happens if they do? (Hint: can you say, “Bagdad?”) It’s a heck of a pickle. And once you’ve started something like this, where is the place you can stop? And when have you really made yourself “safer?”

For Hezbollah, there are risks too. The people of Lebanon may turn on them. They’ve certainly rejected Syrian-installed leaders before. Maybe the Lebanese will rise up and throw the bullies out. It’s certainly a risk Hezbollah faces now. Or, the exact opposite may happen…ie, these leaders that Israel believes should bear the responsibility for this conflict may actually grow stronger in the eyes of the ordinary Lebanese people. (Hint: can you say “Bagdad?”)

Israel continues to enjoy strong support from the United States, and especially from those of us who are members of the third great religion of that region: Christianity. But I hope everyone (Israelis and Jews especially) understand that some of this support comes from ultra-conservative Christians who really do not have Israel’s self-interest at heart.

For them, it’s about theology more than politics. Many of these ultra-conservative Christians believe in Israel’s right to exist, not as a successful sovereign nation, but as the first pawn in a coming Apocalypse. Their strange brand of theology tells them that the world cannot end UNLESS there is an entity called “Israel.” Israel MUST exist, because the Bible says it must. And the Bible says it, so they believe, because that’s how the world ends.

So, it has nothing to do with who Israel is as a nation, or what Israel’s best interests are as a state. And I would have my friends who are supporters of Israel to at least pause and take this to heart. I hope it makes them a little uneasy.

The Arab/Palestinian/Muslim side of this conflict also often enjoys support from Christians. Usually from liberal end of the theological spectrum.

These folks see the conflict in stark “justice” terms:
strong Israel vs. weak Palestine.
powerful landlords vs. evicted settlers.

And there is truth to their analysis. Just as the Bible has apocalyptic sections that talk about the end of the world (probably meant to be taken metaphorically), so too the Bible has sections that talk about justice for the oppressed and downtrodden (probably not meant to be taken metaphorically).

But here too, sometimes I fear that these liberal Christians (the folks I hang out with most often…) don’t see the Arab/Palestinian/Muslim side as real people either, but as symbols for the “downtrodden.” As such, sometimes progressive Christians seem too willing to excuse terrorist acts, and random violence as justifiable responses. They don’t come right out and say they support such acts. But their silence often creates the exact same kind of moral vacuum that the President created when he just sat and ate his dinner roll.

We must condemn violence on all sides. We must implore everyone in the region to try and see the conflict through the eyes of the “other.”

Both Jews and Christians share the Hebrew Scriptures, and this past Sunday in our church the lectionary reading was from Samuel. It was the from the section where King Solomon had just finished building his glorious temple….a site still fought over to this day by all three of these great religions.

The temple took 30 years to complete. It required a vast expenditure of resources and human capital, including men who we conscripted into virtual slavery as temple construction workers. But finally, the Temple is done. And Solomon gathers to offer a prayer. He prays for wisdom and guidance for all the people. And then, during one part of the prayer, Solomon says this:

“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name- for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.”

What would it be like if everyone in Jerusalem could respect the prayers and supplications of everyone else? What would it mean if each great religion were to say to its own extremists:

“We must all coexist together in this land, because it’s a spiritual inheritance for us all. The descendants of this land all trace back to two half brothers, who, for a brief time, coexisted as God’s children. Let us work to create such a land again.”

Wouldn’t that be great?

I’m not holding my breath. But I truly do believe that such an idea is the only path to true peace. And perhaps it’s more of a religious and spiritual truth that needs embodiment than a political one that needs negotiation.

Because the descendants of those two half brothers continue to fight, right down to this day. And it doesn’t matter who started it anymore. It really doesn’t. The only thing that matters is how it ends. And if the region is to survive, then there are ways that all sides can come to coexist.

Because the one thing I know for sure is that this is a war that can never be “won.”

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of Kessler Park UMC United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas for seventeen years. Eric loves to write on topics of spirituality, social justice, music/art and politics. The entries on this blog reflect that diversity of interests. His passion for social justice goes beyond mere words. He’s been arrested at the White House, defending immigrants and “The Dreamers,” and he’s officiated at same sex weddings in his churches, in defiance of what some believe is Methodist teaching. Eric is an avid blogger and published author, and 2017 recipient of the prestigeous Kuchling Humanitarian Award from Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner. (Human Rights Campaign) Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He’s a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named “best judge” by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County, and is currently the longest service district judge in that district. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2018. They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. Find links to Eric’s music-related websites, at the top of this site’s navigation menu.

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